High School Sports

No. 5 Charlotte Catholic at No. 12 Christian in football opener Friday

No. 12 Charlotte Christian hunts a school-record fourth straight private schools state title under coach Jason Estep. Estep worked with quarterback Jack Cherry during a recent practice.
No. 12 Charlotte Christian hunts a school-record fourth straight private schools state title under coach Jason Estep. Estep worked with quarterback Jack Cherry during a recent practice. jsimmons@charlotteobserver.com

Charlotte Christian coach Jason Estep and Charlotte Catholic coach Mike Brodowicz say they have something in common: It’s hard to find opponents for nonconference games.

Charlotte Catholic, No. 5 in the Observer’s preseason Sweet 16 poll, has reached the state finals in two of the past three seasons. No. 12 Charlotte Christian has won three straight private school state football championships. And that issue with finding opponents has led the teams to each other.

Catholic will kick off the season at Charlotte Christian Friday night at 7. It’s the first meeting between the teams since 2002, when Catholic won 21-7 at home. Catholic will try to end Charlotte Christian’s 24-game win streak against private schools, a run that dates to September 2012.

“They are a formidable team,” Brodowicz said of Charlotte Christian, “but we like to make our (nonconference schedule) very strong to see where our weaknesses are.

“They will test us and it’s good for the fans to get to see two teams who are very successful in both their leagues and win championships. Fans will get to see a quality game to start the season.”

Catholic was 14-2 last season, which was Brodowicz’s first as head coach.This season, Catholic returns 14 starters, hunting back-to-back state finals appearances. Brodowicz’s team returns 2,000-yard tailback Jaret Anderson and quarterback John Walton, who threw for more than 1,000 yards – a rarity at a school known for its running game.

Defensively, Brodowicz said this will be one of the Cougars’ best units in years. It’s led by 6-foot-4, 225-pound Duke recruit Xander Gagnon, who had 132 tackles and three interceptions in 2014.

Like Charlotte Catholic, Charlotte Christian returns 14 starters. The Knights will feature tailback Elijah Deveaux, a Duke recruit who ran for more than 1,800 yards last season. Christian, which is 32-4 the past three seasons, lost 11 seniors from the 2014 state champion. Seven of them are playing college football.

Estep said his team is young. Freshman Garrett Shrader and sophomore Jack Cherry have traded practice snaps at quarterback, for example. Estep believes, however, that his team will be ready to contend for a championship by November, and that playing games like this one will help the Knights get there.

“I’m not saying it’s not going to be hard,” Estep said. “I know the other teams will be good, but we’ll stick the blueprint we’ve always done. I’m not scheduling games to pad my won-loss record. That’s not what I’m here for. I’m here to help these kids be successful.”

That’s also the plan for Brodowicz and Charlotte Catholic – get tested early and be ready to go late.

“It’s tough for us to get nonconference games,” he said. “Only the good teams want to play teams that are good. We have found that it’s a challenge. But playing quality teams allows you to find out your weaknesses and address those weaknesses. It answers a lot of questions for us.”

Langston Wertz Jr.: 704-358-5133; @langstonwertzjr

This week’s openers

Thursday’s game

Concord at A.L. Brown, late

Friday’s game

No. 9 Ardrey Kell at No. 11 Weddington, 7:30

Saturday’s games

at Memorial Stadium

Myers Park vs. Charlotte Country Day, 5 p.m.

Independence vs. No. 1 Mallard Creek, 8 p.m.

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